Hon. Rick Larsen
Good Afternoon. I want to thank Chairwoman Herseth-Sandlin and Ranking Member Boozman for holding this important hearing. A number of valuable pieces of legislation will be discussed today concerning improvements and modifications to the GI Bill. I am especially pleased that we will be discussing the Montgomery GI Bill for Life Act (HR 2247), legislation I have sponsored and I am thankful to have a number of bipartisan cosponsors. I also want to thank Senator Maria Cantwell for her leadership on this issue and her sponsorship of companion legislation in the Senate.
The GI Bill was established in 1944 as a way of giving back to our nation’s veterans who gave so much to our country during World War II. Since it became law, this program has helped millions of veterans afford a two or four-year degree. This historic legislation has improved the lives of many veterans, opening doors and creating opportunities for those who served in the military to serve our country in new ways as civilians. Through the GI Bill, countless veterans have become teachers, scientists and engineers -- to name just a few examples -- and made countless contributions to communities across the country.
For all the benefits of the GI Bill, there are clearly areas which need reform. Under current law, the vast majority of service members contribute to the GI Bill program, but only slightly more than half take advantage of their education benefits before they expire. Current law requires that those who served in active duty must use all of their education benefits within 10 years of being discharged. Those serving in the Selected Reserve have 14 years of eligibility to use their GI Bill benefits.
We live in a 21st Century world that requires a 21st Century workforce. Advances in technology mean that increasing numbers of Americans need more than a high school degree to succeed. Furthermore, estimates show the average annual earnings of someone with a bachelor’s degree are anywhere from 74 to 87 percent higher than the earnings of someone with a high school diploma.
Many veterans are not able to go back to school immediately or within the first several years after they leave the service. Many service members must postpone school to support their families, and many face lengthy rehabilitations from service-related injuries. Others choose to gain experience in the workforce first and need further education down the road in order to advance their careers. Some veterans may be able to start using their benefits within the time frame allowed, but are not able to complete their degree within 10 years. When the benefits run out, many can’t afford to return to school and are unable to complete their degree.
We must do more to honor our commitment to veterans and help them access the education benefits they have earned. Veterans should not be limited to an arbitrary timeline that prevents them from getting the education and job training they need when they need it. The GI Bill for Life Act would remove these time limitations and allow our nation’s veterans to use their benefits whenever they see fit. They paid into the program and they should be able to use the program at the right time in their lives and their careers.
As more and more veterans come back from Iraq, Afghanistan and other areas of the world, we need to give them the tools they need to succeed in the next stage of their lives. We need to give them every opportunity to transition to civilian life and take advantage of future career opportunities.
I want to thank you again for holding this important hearing and for considering the Montgomery GI Bill for Life Act. I look forward to continuing to work with you and the other members of the committee to advance this legislation and help give our nation’s veterans the flexibility they need to be successful.